Property prices do go down

Do you or someone you know hold beliefs like “property is safe”, “property doesn’t go down”, “you can’t lose money on property” and “property is the best investment”. If so, you may be a victim of our natural tendency to confirmation bias. Read this article to boost your robust decision making.

A couple of weeks ago someone was telling me about their recent investment property purchase. They had borrowed the full property price plus purchase costs. Their strategy was to hold it for about 3 to 4 years and then sell it for a substantial profit.

Alarm bells were already ringing for me – then they came out with “the worst that could happen is we sell it for what we bought it for.”

I do not have a bias for or against any particular type of investment asset, although some may interpret that I do. I favour robust decision making where the outcome is selecting the right strategies and assets for you right now. What is appropriate for you will be fluid and change over time as your situation evolves.

When it comes to residential property too often I encounter beliefs and decision making that is far from robust.

I hear phrases like “property is safe”, “property doesn’t go down”, “you can’t lose money on property” and “property is the best investment”.

Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”
— Michael Shermer

Naturally deceptive

Confirmation bias is one of our natural tendencies where we selectively focus on and easily recall information that reinforces our existing beliefs. At the same time we selectively ignore and forget information that would challenge that belief.

When people talk to me about residential property they seem to always have a toolkit of anecdotes they can roll-out to prove their point. Often they can’t recall knowing anyone who has lost money, or reading any news about property loses.

I know a lot of people have made good money investing in residential property in the past decade. But I also know people who have lost money, sometimes lots. And I also see the more scientific statistics of movement in real estate indices (and the indices of other asset types.)

“…thinking anecdotally comes naturally, whereas thinking scientifically does not.”
— Michael Shermer

Evidence to help you

In the interests of supporting you in making more robust decisions I am starting to collate and publish evidence to challenge the common misconception that property does not go down. Here is the first:

House prices tipped to slip in year ahead

The Weekend Australian, January 1-2, 2011 reported “…a national fall in house prices with further declines likely over the year ahead.” Read the article here

I live in the “boom town” of Perth where optimism about property investment is astounding. Yet even in Perth property does go down as reported by The Weekend Australian:

“The Rismark-RP Data house price index shows the market is weakest in Perth, where average prices have fallen by 4.9 per cent, or almost $25,000, since May.

Average apartment prices in Perth are down $44,000. Home buyers in Perth have seen no capital appreciation since August 2007.”

(emphasis added by me.)

Wow, two whole years where investors potentially had no capital appreciation to compensate them for negative cash flow (from rent not covering interest).

Selling your property for what you bought it for is certainly not the worst that could happen!

Ensure you are scientific in your research and make robust decisions about what is right for you right now.

Introducing the new Australian share volatility index

Are you interested in the expected volatility of the share market? Then get some VIX. From tomorrow a new Australian equity volatility benchmark will be published by Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). The benchmark will be known as the S&P/ASX 200 VIX (ASX code: XVI). Following are some key highlights from the information provided by S&P and the ASX.

Are you interested in the expected volatility of the share market? Then get some VIX.

From tomorrow a new Australian equity volatility benchmark will be published by Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). The benchmark will be known as the S&P/ASX 200 VIX (ASX code: XVI).

If you are familiar with share market investing you will note the similarity to the VIX index published by the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE). In fact the Australian index will use the same methodology (under licence of course).

You can learn more about the volatility index and download a fact sheet on the ASX website here.

Following are some key highlights from the information provided by S&P and the ASX. If you get lost in all of this it’s ok – you don’t need to know it to successfully create wealth.

What the VIX is

The index measures the expected volatility of the top 200 shares listed on the ASX. Since it is a forward looking index, in a way it is like trying to put science around a crystal ball.

Expected volatility is calculated using the settlement prices of call and put options, which are derived from expected future prices of the underlying share.

Using and interpreting the volatility index

In regards to using the index I like this quote in the media release from Richard Murphy, ASX General Manager, Equity Markets, who said:

“observers of the index will have insight into the degree of uncertainty among investors and their expectations regarding the magnitude of future movements in the local equity market.”

Also from the media release is this tip on how to interpret the index:

“A volatility index at a higher level generally implies a market expectation of large changes in the S&P/ASX 200 over the next 30 days, indicating that investor sentiment is uncertain. Conversely, a lower volatility index value generally implies a market expectation of little change, suggesting greater levels of investor confidence.”

Should you care about the volatility index?

The index looks forward 30 days so it is very short term. That really is only of interest to short term traders and anyone contemplating making a purchase or sale of a direct share during that period. If you are investing for the long term you can probably ignore it and focus on enjoying the other elements of your life.

Further the index is non-directional – volatility is both ways. You don’t know if investors expect the fluctuations to be mostly up or down. So you can’t really interpret from the index that the market will go up or down and therefore you should either buy now or wait, respectively.

So unless you actively trade direct shares you are better off concentrating your energies on other financial elements. (Unless you want to impress people at the next barbecue with comments about how fearful or not investors are.)